What is “Real Democracy” in Japan?
Written by Michiyo Terasaki, Crossing Borders National Coordinator for Japan
–Prologue: What made me interested in democracy for the first time in my life?-
“The spouse of the Prime minister is a private citizen, not a public official” – This statement was made by the Japanese government on March 14th, 2017. At first, I thought this very strange, and couldn’t understand why our government would need to make such a decision, and that was the moment I became interested in Japanese politics, at the age of 37.
I soon realized that this was related to the big scandal about the ultra-nationalist private educational body, Moritomo Gakuen. There had been so much discussion going on about the relationship between Mr. and Mrs Abe (the prime minister and his wife) and this school, specifically in relation to the suspicion that Moritomo recieved an exceptional discount of about 8 hundred million JPY (US$7.2 million) towards the sale of the government property for the school. Although Prime minister Shinzo Abe swore to national parliament that he and his wife didn’t have any political support or pressure at all related to the sale of the government property, there are several facts that arouse suspicion, such as that Mrs Abe used to be honorary principal, and that Moritomo insists that they received a donation from Mrs. Abe.
I suppose that in making the aforementioned statement, our government wanted to say that; “Even if Mrs. Abe supported and donated to Moritomo, it would be no matter as she is a private citizen.” However, I felt that this was a kind of privatization of politics.
There are various other suspicious facts; Moritomo is run by a body which is known for its radical ultra nationalist education policy, and which sent hate-speech to some of their student’s parents who are Chinese and Korean, as well as making students memorize the 1890’s Imperial Rescript on Education, a kind of return to the pre-war period. Mrs. Abe cried with happiness when she saw those children praising PM Abe, and Moritomo even tried to name the school the “Abe Shinzo Memorial Primary School”. Afterwards, an even bigger educational scandal emerged, surrounding the Kake Gakuen school, which is owned by a close friend of Mr. Abe’s.
When these scandals began being discussed at the beginning of 2017, Prime minister Abe’s cabinet had strong support, and the government kept denying these scandals authoritatively without showing any desire to explain sincerely, and surprisingly this didn’t affect his approval rate right away since there was no high-powered competitor. Those things made me think about a threat to democracy, thus I decided to learn more about it.
For this series, I would like to consider what real democracy is for Japan, by analyzing our current situation from the viewpoints of history, cultural background and the function of media.